Training Bible Studies with Joe and Dirk Friel: Regaining confidence after a crash

A reader asks about regaining confidence after a race crash

The Friels offer answers to a selection of questions in this weekly column here on VeloNews. Readers can send questions to Joe and Dirk Friel in care of at

Limited by memories of pavement

Dear Dirk and Joe,
I’ve been a big fan of your “Training Bible” and have been putting itto great use for the last three years. I can’t tell you how many copies I used to sell when I worked at my local shop. Thanks to your techniques along with blood, sweat and tears, I’ve upgraded this year to a USCF Cat. 4 at the age of 25. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a critical “limiter” preventing me from winning that’s not covered in your book or by anyone I ride with.

Just over a year ago, I was involved in a severe crash during a SuperWeek crit in Wisconsin. I was in my groove, feeling great and could’ve easily placed in the top-10 until I went down. I went down in such a way that I was lucky to walk away with a concussion, what little skin was left on my body and most importantly my vision. My eyewear spared my right eyelid from being ripped open as I skidded to a stop.

Getting back on the saddle was the least of my troubles. However, I’ve been a changed cyclist since then. I no longer have the level of confidence in racing that I once had. Cornering at speed never used to phase me to the degree in which it does now. I used to be able to fight tooth and nail to keep my position or attack in a crit. Now, I find myself braking far earlier and with greater frequency than I know I should in competition. This has cost me countless opportunities to take primes and place this year.

I thought just simply riding more often with Cat. 1/2 racers in my local group would help, but to no avail. Practicing my cornering by myself has helped but only to a slight degree. Is there something I’m missing? So many lost opportunities at victory is driving me nuts and I don’t know whom to turn to. At this rate I’ll never upgrade, let alone reach my Olympic dreams. Thank you so much for your help.

— Christian Soto, Chicago, IL

This is a very tough one and is more a limiter in terms of psychology than of any type of physiological training we could help you with. My suggestion would be to try and find ways you can rebuild your confidence and get back into the fighting spirit. Maybe local group rides and training series should be a large focus as you enter next season as a way to gain confidence. Then take that new-found confidence into your bigger regional and national races.

Having a fear of high speed cornering is a major issue if your natural strength is speed and power. Criteriums are most likely your A-priority races. Maybe you can change your focus a bit and consider placing somemore emphasis on road races which have safer sprint finishes. Once you win a few road races you may find that you can focus again on the high-profile criteriums.

Good luck,
—Joe and Dirk

Effect of heat on heart rate

Dear Joe and Dirk,
I am 38 years old and over the past seven or eight years my max heartrate has remained very consistent at 207 bpm. This year my region of the country was hit with some very hot weather and I saw my HR soar. The air quality was also very poor. It was nothing to break 200 and on some climbs I saw 214 bpm. Afterwards it was evident that choosing to ride at the times I did was an unhealthy choice but hindsight is 20-20. Should I consider this an anomaly and forget about it or should I re-adjust training to accommodate my “new” max?

— Dirk Van Kilmer

I would not place emphasis on what your max heart rate is, as we don’t base training protocols on max heart rate. Instead of gauging intensity and heart rate zones off of one’s max heart rate, we instead create training intensity based upon lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). We have found that an athlete’ LTHR is much more valuable than one’s max HR.

Consider the example of two cyclists who have the same max HR. Doesthis mean that they will both complete a 40km time trial at the same average heart rate? Most likely not. These two athletes will compete at different heart rates, which have little do with their max pulse rate. So therefore why would we have them both train with the same heart rate zones based off of their similar max heart rate? Instead it would be much more effective to base their five heart rate training zones on their individual LTHR.

Hope this helps and good luck,
— Joe and Dirk

My winter of discontent

Dear Joe,
I have been using the “Cyclist’s Training Bible” for the last couple years and have had good results. I have recently moved from Southern California to Ohio. I am concerned about my prep and base 1 periods for the coming season. Last off-season I was able to complete very thorough prep and base phases due to the warm winter weather in SoCal. This strong base enabled me to have very good endurance throughout the season with only minimal endurance maintenance rides during the heart of the racing season. I would obviously like to reproduce this fitness base again this year.

My question would then be how do I accomplish this in Ohio since outside long distance riding is almost impossible during the months of December, January and February? A training partner has suggested attempting to completethe prep’ and base periods this fall before it gets too cold and then just try to maintain it through the cold winter months. Is this a valid technique or would I lose most of my base during my three months of shortened (usually can’t tolerate more than two hours) indoor workouts?

— Tim

Dear Tim,
Yes it can be tough to gain proper base fitness in colder regions. There are, however, a few periodization methods you can introduce into your annual training plan that may be very valuable for you to try. I would not recommend starting your base training in the fall, and then try to maintain it throughout the winter. This simply won’t work and it is too far away from the race season to be of much help. Try to get in as much base training volume as possible, but of course it will be less than your typical southern California training volume. So along with the volume also incorporate specific muscular endurance training (heart rate zone 3) to build your aerobic fitness as best possible.

With reduced training volume you will just have to be smarter and more effective with your training.Try starting with 6-minute zone 3 intervals within base 1. Then progress to one 20-minute interval and add time from there weekly throughout the base 2 and base 3 periods.

Another hint is to actually conduct a short base 3 period within the race season, if you can fit it in. Often times this works best after an initial peak in May or June. After your first important race of theyear take 2-3 weeks to reduce your training intensity and increase the volume to regain some lost base fitness. This strategy can be just as effective at maintaining base fitness as your normal large-volume base training you were used to back in California.

Your results and fitness can be just as good as when you lived in California. You just have to plan better now and make your time more effective.

Good luck,
— Joe and Dirk

Shedding weight for climbing

Dear Joe or Dirk,
I am a 20-year-old male Cat. 4 road racer and Sport class mountain biker, and I also enjoy competing in duathlons. I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall and weigh 144 pounds, with more than average muscle mass (at least for a cyclist) on my upper body. I didn’t used to be this large until about a year-and-a-half ago when my body just hit this natural upper-body growth spurt without any weight lifting. Now I’d really like to lose more weight for climbing and general race performance, and I’ve dropped enough fat and some mass off of my ribs and neck to get from 156 this winter down to 144 right now. I’ve been looking for less fatigue in long mountain bike races, so I’ve been doing some upper body lifting once a week, 2 sets of 15-20 reps for each exercise. Is there anything I can do to lose upper body muscle and maintain strength, or should I just concentrate on losing more fat?

— Drew Hall

Dear Drew,
I can’t say whether you need to concentrate on losing more fat without knowing your body composition. If you want to lose upper body muscle mass then be careful how much you lift. You may not need to lift any upper body if this is a major concern of yours. Very few have to take this route however and I suspect your lifting once/week upper body 15-20 reps is fine. You can also increase the reps and lower the weights to make it more endurance-oriented.

Realize too that you are only 20 years old. Your body will change quite a bit especially if you concentrate on endurance cycling events. Your body will adapt and become more endurance-oriented. I would say this shouldn’t be a huge issue for you and to just continue consistent training with moderate gains. This will ensure smart controlled progress for years to come.

I would consider lots of variety within your training this winter to work your endurance and climbing issues. Running can be a great way to keep the weight off and gain endurance fitness. Hiking, cross countryskiing, roller blading, etc are great ways to build endurance other than on the bike as well.

Good luck,
— Joe and Dirk

Too tired

Dear Joe and Dirk,
I’m just dead tired. My season started very enthusiastically with lots of miles and hours, much more than I had done before, I worked hard at forming a base before entering higher intensity workouts. Things went well until mid-May, since then my motivation has roller-coastered and often I have a hard time motivating myself to train hard or get my heart rate up. I assumed I was just way over trained and took about four weeks of just three rides easy per week. Even so, with the time off the bike, I’m still having problems. If indeed I am over trained, how long should I take off? I don’t want to become lazy, and want to continue some form of exercise. Would I be negating the effectsof “time off” if I were to switch sports to running, weights, swimming, etc., or should I just couch potato it for a while?

— Tom

Dear Tom,
Have you had a general physical and blood test taken? If you are lacking in one micronutrient this could be the answer to all of your issues. One or two simple blood tests should be conducted yearly anyways just to check general health issues. If a blood test comes back with no answer to your troubles and a doctor does not see any physical problem, then yes I would recommend crosstraining. Incorporating other activities can maybe bring about a mental change and reintroduce excitement into your program. But, if you do these other activities and are still very tired and unmotivated then I would take two or three weeks off from training all together. Don’t think ofyourself as being lazy. If you haven’t tried a few weeks of total rest yet this should seriously be considered.

Good luck,
— Joe and Dirk

Getting dropped at just the wrong moment

Hi Joe,
I’m a Cat 3 crit racer in southern Florida. I’ve been experiencing difficulty in some races lately, probably due to the increased technicality and my inability to recover. I noticed that right before I get dropped I’m consistently in my 5c zone for about 3-4 minutes. So, my question to you is: is it possible to increase the amount of time one can stay in the 5c zone? If so, what workouts will help in this effort? In addition, how many sessions would be required to see a significant improvement (I know the last one may sound dumb)?

Thanks in advance

Dear CCC,
The ability to stay within zone 5 is dependent upon your ability to withstand lactate build up. No matter who you are no one can stay above their lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) for more than a few minutes. So the answer to your question may not be how long can you stay above LTHR, but instead can you adapt and go faster at your lactate threshold, and also your VO2 max. By increasing your ability to go faster at VO2max you in essence prolong how long you can stay in a race without getting dropped.

Now all of this truly starts back during the preparation and base periods with building the foundation of your race season fitness. But since you are already in your race season the only thing you can do now is incorporate race-specific intensity and smart, well-timed rest. Try these intervals to simulate race intensity and always be sure you follow these up with good rest before your race day.

Anaerobic-endurance intervals.
Flat course. After warm-up do 2-3x 8-12 second max-effort sprints (3-5 minute recoveries). Then do 4-5 x3 minutes to heart rate 5b zone (3-minute recoveries). 2-3 more sprints. 95-110 cadence.

Variable-paced intervals.
Warm-up and then ride 5 minutes to the heart rate 4 zone (3-minute recovery) followed by 2 minutes in the heartrate 5b zone (1-minute recovery). Follow this pattern 3 times non-stop. Smooth pedaling. 95-110 rpm.

Good luck,
— Joe and Dirk

Joe Friel is the author of “TheCyclist’s Training Bible.” Dirk Friel races professionally and coachesalong with Joe at Ultrafit Associates. For software go to,and for coaching services and a free training newsletter go to can be sent to